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National collaboration leads to new project to enhance mine safety and productivity

The International Minerals Innovation Institute (IMII), Peck Tech and Saskatchewan Polytechnic recognize that mine safety is top of mind for many Saskatchewan companies. Now, a new underground wireless positioning system being developed at Saskatchewan Polytechnic promises to enhance mine safety while advancing automation at underground mines around the world.

Thanks to support from IMII and minerals member companies BHP and Nutrien, Dr. Terry Peckham, a senior research associate at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, has begun work on a prototype that uses technology similar to GPS technology to identify the positions of people and equipment in an underground mine to within 30 cm of their actual location. This technology would enable companies to operate more efficiently by improving mine safety, process optimization and automation.

IMII, BHP and Nutrien are investing $244,000 in cash and in-kind resources to develop the technology. A supply chain company partner, Peck Tech, is also contributing $100,000 in cash and in-kind resources. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) is contributing $300,000 to the project through its Applied Research and Development program. The value of the final project is almost $650,000.

“We are grateful for this investment by our industry partners and the Government of Canada in this innovative mine safety project,” says Dr. Larry Rosia, Sask Polytech president and CEO.  “This investment is transformative and this project would not be possible without their support.  Applied research projects continue to puts Saskatchewan and Sask Polytech at the forefront of innovation in mine safety and optimization.”

“The development of autonomous mining equipment for enhanced miner safety is a priority in the mining and minerals industry,” says Al Shpyth, IMII’s executive director. “This project focuses on developing infrastructure that will be necessary to support autonomous mining machines and personnel tracking. It lays the groundwork for development of production systems that provide remote monitoring, tracking and control through a system of sensors, beacons and hubs distributed as a mesh throughout the mine plan.”

“We are highly impressed with Sask Polytech’s practical and hands-on approach to assessing and adapting off-the-shelf technologies to address the problem of accurate three-dimensional localization in a GPS denied environment like an underground mine. We fully recognize that commercially viable localization systems are critical components of enabling advanced machine automation and innovative safety systems for mobile assets and personnel. When these are deployed as part of a production system, significant productivity and safety benefits will be delivered to miners and equipment suppliers,” says Dr. Jonathan Peck, president and CEO of Peck Tech Consulting Ltd.

This Sask Polytech applied research project is supported through IMII’s Developing Innovations program, Peck Tech Consulting and the NSERC Applied Research and Development program. Through this program, NSERC aims to increase innovation by enabling Canadian polytechnics and colleges to increase their capacity to work with private sector companies. It supports applied research and collaborations that facilitate commercialization, as well as technology transfer, adaptation and adoption of new technologies.

International Minerals Innovation Institute is a unique innovation supporting network of mining companies, government departments and agencies, and post-secondary and research institutions, jointly funded by industry and government. It exists to deliver innovations that matter to mining in Saskatchewan. Through the Board of Directors and separate panels for both education and training and research and development, collaboration occurs amongst industry, government, post-secondary and research institutions to clearly define the need, solution, implementation plan and outcomes together.

Peck Tech Consulting Ltd. is a global provider of advanced sensing, monitoring, control and automation consulting services and products to the mining industry. Peck Tech assists customers in defining and executing viable, pragmatic and complete technology solutions and overall digital strategies that can deliver tangible and measurable performance, productivity and safety outcomes. Combined, Peck Tech employees and associates offer 100+ years of project consulting and innovative product experience derived from customer driven technology development and deployment on mobile mining equipment in both open-pit and underground mines. More information is available at www.pecktech.ca.

Saskatchewan Polytechnic serves students through applied learning opportunities at campuses in Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, Regina and Saskatoon, and through extensive distance education opportunities. Programs serve every economic and public service sector. As a polytechnic, the organization provides the depth of learning appropriate to employer and student needs, including certificate, diploma and degree programs, and apprenticeship training. Saskatchewan Polytechnic engages in applied research, drawing on faculty expertise to solve real-world problems of industry, support innovation by employers, and by providing students the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills.